1. Get Low
When most parents take pictures of their children, especially babies and toddlers, they take the picture from a standing position. Taking pictures from above has a miniaturizing effect and this may not be what you want. Get down to the child’s level, or even lower for a new and fresh perspective. Don’t be afraid to lay on the ground in front of your child. The child will also enjoy the interaction more and may actually pose for you :=)
2. Focus on the eyes
We, as humans, are hardwired to be attracted by human faces and the eyes in particular. We see faces and eyes everywhere. This is why we can say a car looks “mean”, “aggressive” or “cute”. Whenever taking a picture of your child, makes sure the eyes are in focus, otherwise the picture will most likely look uninteresting.
3. No Cheese
I don’t know who came up with this idea. “Cheese” is not a smile. It’s more of a grin. Unnatural and boring. We should be more concerned with being happy then with looking happy. But I digress. What I have noticed, especially with children, if anything else fails and a smile just isn’t happening, the easiest way to make them smile is to ask them to STOP smiling. “There are no smiles in this picture SIR, I want your most serious face! No smiles please!”. Then wait and see the magic happen.
4. No pop-up flash
Another contraption that is good only to make everyone look like a dear in the headlights. If you don’t have an external flash, the best you can do is to hold small piece of white cardboard right underneath the pop-up flash in a slight angle and attempt to “bounce” the light on the ceiling or a wall. The bounced light will give a more natural look to your portrait.
5. Read the Manual!
Maybe this should have been the first advice. Even if you only have a point and shoot camera, still read the manual. Cameras evolved a lot in the past few years and there is a lot of functionality built even in the cheap ones.
Knowing when to use portrait mode, landscape mode, sports mode, etc can make a big difference.
6. Mind the light
Although this is obvious to each and every one of us, this is one of the most ignored facts about taking pictures: Light makes the picture. Be aware of your light source(s) and the characteristics of your light. Notice how soft or harsh the shadows are. If you never did this before, a quick half an hour reading session that starts with a simple Google search for “light quality in photography” would most likely improve your photography more than a brand new camera.
7. Avoid commingling extremes
Very bright and very dark parts of the same scene can not be properly captured by a camera. Whenever possible, keep these extremes separated. You eyes are much better at adapting and have a much higher “dynamic range”. What you see will NOT what your camera will record, for the most part. It may help understanding how a camera and the human eye are different. They article may shed some light (no pun intended): Camera vs The Human Eye
8. Off center you go
Most people have the tendency to place the subject of a photograph right in the middle. In most cases, this will make for a pretty static and boring image. Move your subject off-center!
Read a little bit about “the rule of thirds” and the “golden mean”. Here is a pretty easy to understand article on this subject.
And of course, rules are meant to be broken, but start by following them 🙂
9. Take vertical shots!
Most people always keep their camera horizontal (landscape orientation) for all the pictures they are taking. ROTATE your camera and take some vertical shots. Did you notice that they are called “portrait orientation” and “landscape orientation”? The names are NOT random :=)
Which one do you think should be used more for a portrait? How about for a landscape?
10. Mind your background!
A few six packs, a pack of cigarettes or a pair of dirty socks may not make for the most eye pleasing background for your child’s portrait.
For the most part, a photo should have one subject, that can be easily identified by just about anyone. Various other objects/textures/patterns can serve as a lead-in, but if you take a portrait of your child there is no need to have anything else in the image competing for attention.
12. Use the view-finder
Stop taking pictures while using that awesome LCD screen. Looking through the view finder will give you a better perspective and will improve your composition.
13. What really matters
And out of all of this, understanding what controls the light hitting the sensor on your camera is essential. Learn what Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO are.